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Falcons Uniform History #72: Sam Baker as the last survivor

The number 72 proves to be one of the most underwhelming common numbers in Falcons uniform history.

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Despite being one of the more common numbers, the number 72 has been permeated with mediocrity in Falcons history. Journeymen players surround this list, although one former first-round pick will be recognized immediately. It was surprising to see such a disappointing list for this number. Many teams had at least one respectable offensive lineman that represented the number. Instead. this list will leave you puzzled of witnessing players that failed to pan out in Atlanta.

DT: Jim Bailey

The second round pick in the 1970 draft played for Atlanta at the tail end of his career. It's difficult to rate his career, due to sacks not being recorded during the 1970's. Nobody ever mentioned him as a quality run-defender either. Bailey had a nine-year career, which proves some worth. After five seasons with Baltimore, Bailey had a one-year stint with the Jets. Atlanta signed him in 1976 to fill a hole at defensive tackle. Bailey was versatile enough to play both defensive end and tackle. The former Kansas Jayhawk played three seasons in Atlanta before not being re-signed after the 1978 season.

LT: Sam Baker

When it came to punchlines, Falcon fans have used Baker's name more than nearly every player over the past decade. The oft-injured left tackle struggled throughout the majority of his career. Pass-protection always seemed to be his biggest issue from a technical perspective. His constant poor positioning also made him a below-average run blocker as well. Chronic back issues did hinder Baker's career. That doesn't take away from his struggles, particularly in 2011. Baker did suffer from back issues in 2011, but that injury didn't occur until November. Who could forget Trent Cole annihilating him on Sunday Night Football?

Baker did improve in 2012, which earned him an heavily overpaid contract. Following that contract, Baker played four games in two seasons. The former first-round pick tore his right patellar tendon last season and suffered from a left knee injury (injury information was never fully released) in 2013. With Jake Matthews groomed as the long-term solution at left tackle, Baker's days were numbered. Despite showing a willingness to play left guard, the organization decided to release him in June. At 30 years old, Baker's career seems to be over. Not one team has contacted him for a tryout.

DE: Oliver Barnett

Despite being a third-round pick, Barnett never evolved into becoming a starter. That could have been from Atlanta being moderately successful throughout the early 1990's. Other than starting seven games in 1992, he never developed into a consistent pass-rusher. Buffalo signed him in 1993 following Atlanta's decision not to re-sign him. Barnett continued to play within a backup role for three seasons, including a one-year stint in San Francisco. His career ended following the 1995 season.

LT: Wayne Gandy

The 15-year veteran tends to be under-appreciated when analysts mention quality left tackles over the past 20 years. Not many left tackles can claim to be dependable and durable like Gandy. From 1995 to 2006, Gandy missed a grand total of one game. The former first-round pick was an excellent pass blocker, along with consistently playing at a high level. Atlanta traded for Gandy in 2006 by sending underachieving safety Bryan Scott and a late-round pick to New Orleans.

Although they only received one productive season from him, nobody can begrudge Rich McKay for making that trade on paper. Gandy's remarkable career concluded in 2008. It has been proven throughout the uniform history series that Atlanta has acquired quality players at the final stage of their respective career. Another name adds to the list of Chris Doleman, Steven Jackson, Osi Umenyiora and a few others. Gandy has created his own foundation through offering sports and educational programs in Florida.

DT: Greg Lens

Lens only played two seasons in the NFL. After being drafted by St. Louis in the 1970 draft, the former fourth-round pick was immediately traded to Atlanta. Lens was a rotational player throughout his brief career. He struggled with CTE through the later stages of his life, which led to his unfortunate death in 2009.

DT: Andrew Provence

The list continues with another rotational player that couldn't insert him into becoming a full-time starter. Other than starting 12 games during his rookie year in 1983, Provence was mostly a backup throughout his career. The former third-round pick played five seasons in Atlanta. He contributed with five sacks and being depended on for depth purposes amongst the interior line. After not being re-signed following the 1987 season, Provence wasn't signed by another team.

LT: Don Talbert

During the 1966 expansion draft, Atlanta selected the former All-American to start at left tackle. Talbert was an interesting pick based on missing two seasons (1963-1964) due to his obligations of doing military service in the Vietnam War, The obligations come from being a reserve officer in Texas. Talbert immediately became a starter in Atlanta through the mid 1960's. As the franchise struggled, they eventually had to rebuild and decided to trade Talbert in 1969.

As the left tackle turned 30, he was traded to New Orleans and played there for two seasons. Talbert returned to Dallas in 1971, before finishing his career in the well acclaimed World Football League. The former Texas Longhorn had a productive career on and off the field.

DE: Ben Thomas

The journeymen lineman played for five teams in six seasons. After being drafted by New England in the 1985 draft, Thomas was traded to Green Bay. He failed to make an impact from stints in Green Bay and Pittsburgh. Atlanta gave him an opportunity in 1989, as the franchise was once again struggling. Thomas was forced into the starting lineup for 13 games during the Falcons' dreadful 3-13 season.

The former second round pick only contributed with one sack. He was on the move once again, as St. Louis signed him in 1991. It was unsurprisingly another forgettable season for Thomas, which led to St. Louis not re-signing him. That marked the end of his career at 30 years old.

RG: Mike Zandofsky

Zandofsky is one of the more notable names on this list. After four seasons in San Diego, the former Washington Cougar started two seasons at right guard. Atlanta chose not to re-sign him in 1996, as they were headed towards another rebuilding stage following a 3-13 season. Zandofsky was signed by Philadelphia, although injuries plagued his one-year stint there. His career ended following the 1997 season. Zandofsky has used retirement in a commendable manner by becoming a high school football coach.

Final Verdict

It's hard to reward any player on this list. Unfortunately in Gandy's case, he was already past his prime and only started 16 games for one season. Zandofsky wasn't much of a difference maker in Atlanta either. Despite his constant back issues and being an overall bust, Baker was vital in Atlanta's memorable 2012 season. It's no secret that left tackle is one of the most critical positions in football. Baker stayed healthy and kept Matt Ryan from being blindsided for nearly the entire season. That one efficient year alone justifies Baker being the best number 72 in Falcons history. The standards were that low for this particular number. If any future Falcon has two efficient seasons, they will immediately overtake Baker for that achievement.